Maybe I couldn't conceive on my own and maybe I couldn't get to term, but by fuck, I was going to breastfeed. When the babies were born, I wanted to get to the NICU immediately, not just to check out their adorable punim, but because I needed to get them on my breasts. Everyone knows that early breast milk is crucial for a full-term baby so imagine what I had convinced myself in my anxious little head in regards to my premature, underweight, IUGR babies. It was like my breasts were literally leaking the medication that would get them home and I wanted to shove my boob straight into their mouth AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Except that my breasts weren't really leaking anything. Strangely, I hadn't had any breast changes during the pregnancy. No sensitivity, no big boobage. My size C's stayed firmly size C's. I commented to my OB about this and he brushed it aside saying that many women experienced no breast changes. Which is probably true.
But then my milk didn't come in. My boobs never became "engorged." In fact, it was sort of like my boobs hadn't gotten the message at all that I was pregnant nor had given birth. I thought of my boobs like teenagers glued to a Sony Playstation who have blankly turned towards my voice with a glazed over expression. "What? You were pregnant? Dude...that is nasty."
But the breastfeeding consultants and books didn't find this a problem. Rest more! Pump more! Eat more! Drink more! This was the advice that kept coming around every time I set up a session with a consultant and mentioned that eight full pumpings as well as several sessions directly on the breast every day yielded at most one ounce--altogether. In other words, I could squeeze out a few cc's each session and if you poured all of them together into a vial, you could sometimes eek out an ounce that would go to one baby for one feed.
Books promised me that if I followed their instructions, I would easily be producing four ounces or more per feed. And I believed it because I wanted to believe it. Even though everything felt wrong just as it had with conception. I knew long before that first year was up that something felt "off" and I knew long before the blood work yielded no prolactin in my body that something just didn't feel right with breastfeeding. But I really wanted to breastfeed, so I kept with it for weeks, drinking the water, popping the Reglan, pumping with one of their dirty spit cloths under my nose. I was literally willing to try anything.
Breastfeeding for me was very similar to trying to conceive. The initial message when I expressed my fear that something was wrong was that I needed to give it time. I was told I need to relax. I was told I needed to focus on timing and drink more robitussin or green tea. I was told that a good vacation would bring me a baby. Then the blood work was taken and diagnoses were doled out: POF, LPD, MTHFR/PA1 4G/4G. Suddenly, there were identifiable problems and doctors stopped telling me to relax and started addressing the situation as if they had believed me all along when I said, "something just doesn't seem right."
Which made me realize that breastfeeding consultants are a lot like pilates instructors. They have a focused agenda. Pilates instructors are going to push a pilates routine with exercise being of utmost importance. They believe that almost everyone can do pilates as long as you really want to do it and you commit yourself to the exercises. If you're going to take a half-assed approach, you're going to get half-assed results. But if you make the commitment to doing pilates every single day and doing the exercises correctly, you are going to succeed and feel good and be aligned and whatever else you gain from pilates. Pilates instructors are never going to nod their head in agreement and say, "sedentary living and forgoing exercise to drink a latte and read a book is just as good as pilates."
Therefore, I cannot blame breastfeeding consultants when they have an agenda. Breastfeeding consultants do not believe that formula is just as good as breastmilk, therefore, I can hardly blame them when I went to them for instruction and had them berate me for giving my children formula (we had a breastfeeding consultant tell us we made a terrible choice by taking our children off IVs and giving them formula through an ng tube. She told us that this proved that we weren't committed to breastfeeding). I can blame them for telling me continuously that my lack of breastmilk was my own doing and that all women can breastfeed if they wish. Turns out, if you don't produce any prolactin, you can't. But no one told me to have blood work taken. Instead, it was something I had to push for with my OB at my 6 week appointment. And with the results, there was no apology at pushing my body and self-esteem through hell. There was simply a shrugging of the shoulders and a comment that this "sometimes happens to women who use Follistim during fertility treatments."
Which is a long rambling to get to why I've been waiting for a book like Andi Silverman's Mama Knows Breast for a while. One evening while the kids were still in the NICU, we went down to a local bookstore and sat down with every breastfeeding book, searching for answers. And the answers I found were the same blameist ideology that fuels unsuccessful conception until infertility is diagnosed--if it isn't working, it must be your fault. There must be something you're not doing or that you are doing that is getting in the way of conception. If you'd just lose weight/gain weight/relax/exercise it would happen.
Which is why Andi Silverman's breastfeeding book is different. It is written not by a breastfeeding consultant or a La Leche League spokesperson, but by a mother who wanted to pass on whatever knowledge she gleaned from her own experience to other mothers who might be struggling with breastfeeding. She doesn't have that La Leche League agenda and even--gasp!--talks about formula and throws it out there as an option. As she states on page 36, "You're the only one who has to feed your baby, and you'll choose what works best for you." Thank you, Andi.
The book is a breastfeeding book so it goes through breastfeeding instructions as well as ways to troubleshoot. But the difference between this book and others is that I didn't walk away feeling like shit about myself. She found the perfect tone. Even in her long list of true-and-false questions about breastfeeding, she leaves open the possibility that breastfeeding may not work for everyone and the overriding message is "give it a try" instead of "breast is best and you are a terrible mother if you're giving your child sub-par nutrition" (an actual message I received from an actual person).
Why do I care about a breastfeeding book? Because if I ever get pregnant again, in the third trimester, I was told that they could try to replace the missing prolactin (is this true? Who knows since that OB also told me that he could get me pregnant without treatments this time around). And yes, if it's possible, I want to try breastfeeding again. I'll admit this here--I don't even think it's for that baby. I think it's for me--for conquering something in regards to conception, delivery, and feeding. I want to succeed at breastfeeding.
And this is the book I'm going to use. Because if it isn't working, I want a friend to be on the page, giving a sympathetic smile and saying, "at least you tried." Not a lactation consultant who will tsk tsk me and say, "no prolactin? Not a problem." Which is not to say that every breastfeeding consultant is like this and I'm sure this post will cause a slew of people writing to tell me all about how breast is best and how they're sorry I had a bad experience but they know a great consultant or resource I can use next time.
And this post is not meant to freak you out if you are currently pregnant after treatments, but it should be a heads up to start with blood work to check that all is kosher if your milk doesn't come in. This was my experience with breastfeeding and it wrecked havoc with my self-esteem. So next time, I'm sticking with Andi Silverman's book and tossing out the other agenda-laden breastfeeding guides. Boobs, beware! I've conquered my ovaries and I've conquered my uterus. I'm coming for you next. I mean...after I get knocked up...